The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Zeroeth Order Thoughts on Labyrinth

I set up the (2-player) walkthrough, shoved pieces around with it, skimmed the rules again, then continued the game, checking the rules. Then I went to the BGG Labyrinth forums, checked some points. I’ve also read the Solitaire rules and walkthrough, and played a turn or two. But I haven’t played ‘for real.’

Given all that, my thoughts:

The rules don’t stick in my head. At some points I remembered there is a difference (between, say “Test” and “Select and Test”) but knew enough to refer back to that rule. Better than forgetting.  I did still miss a few rules. Given the asymmetric nature of the game, each side has it’s own rules for actions (and resolutions). It’s not that there are many rules, but there are novel, hard to describe rule. And a few subtle differences. After another game I should mostly have them. (Even after a turn or two, the solitaire ‘Jihadi AI’ flowchart sticks relatively well, though).

Your first games will have traps sprung on the unwary. That’s inevitable in a CDG, of course. (Dear Jihadist, putting 6 cells in Jordan is just asking for a Mossad raid. Signed — OBL). At least here (unlike in Twilight Struggle) I could instantly say “Oh, yeah” instead of trying to remember some point of history before I was born.

Luck Asymmetry and Granularity — The Jihadi constantly rolls … typically one die per opps played (to recruit, move, jihad or plot). Some times recruiting and moving are automatic; but you usually roll, so its a constant stream of dice. The US typically uses their op cards to equal or exceed the counties stability, and then (sometimes) rolls a single die. An interesting dichotomy — The Jihadi can try to do whatever he wants, but will often fail (unless he wants easy things). The US can do anything … as long as it has the political will … but may not change people’s minds. I like that. However, there are some ‘granular’ rolls. In particular, prestige rolls. The most common result is that the US looses 1 prestige (which should happen 22 out of 108 times). For comparison, each 3 points of prestige change is one point US die roll modifier. But, 1 time out of 108 the US gains SIX points of prestige. So if you, say, invade Afghanistan, roll prestige. Usually the world tuts slightly and agrees (with a Gallic shrug) to be snide. But sometimes they love it. Totally random. This particularly bother me because invading is a “hard” action. (As the Pet Shop Boys said, “Which do you choose, a hard or soft option?”) BUT, the game model’s the Allied Powers (Europe, China, Russia, etc) favoring one or the other. It would be nice if those prestige rolls took world opinion into account. I understand that something so complex should be difficult to know, but I suspect the US had a pretty shrewd idea of what the reaction would be to invading Iraq versus Sanctions versus ignoring. So, call that a minor irritant.

Looking at my specific criticisms on how CDGs should be designed:

  1. I don’t think there are ‘too many’ rules, but given the asymmetry there are certainly quite a few.
  2. I don’t think there are key cards that swing the game. The US Elections (which randomly set the US’s posture) are big, but it’s a mandatory event (to use the Here I Stand terminology). Labyrinth keeps Twilight Struggle’s great innovation, playing an opponent’s event triggers it automatically.
  3. I think the Op vs Event decision seems reasonable. The events are strong but sometimes you really just want the OPs. Gut feeling — Labyrinth got this right. Too early to be sure, of course.
  4. The deck doesn’t have a complicated structure. Some events enable or block other events. There’s no “Barbarrosa to Berlin” invasion flowchart.
  5. Both positions are interesting to play.
  6. Hand management is interesting. In particular, the “Doubled action phase” (Jihadi plays twice, then US) allows for lots of potential. Each player also has a limited ability to “bury” one opponents event per turn (the Jihadi by using it for a specified type of OPs, the American by just discarding one card a turn, obviously a painful choice).

Minor points:

  • The single player game seems interesting. Sometimes the AI acts weird, but usually it puts the US under reasonable pressure. The flowcharts cover some special cases and provide reasonable outcomes most of the time. And there are multiple difficulty levels…I figured I may only play this a few times, but the solo option is good for a rainy day.
  • History is still being written, but given the assumptions the design makes Labyrinth feels like a reasonable study.



Written by taogaming

December 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Reviews

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  1. […] first game had one of those game changing prestige rolls I worried about. US invades Afghanistan, and rolls Tan 6 (only roll to make US gain prestige) Black 4-6. Gain 4. […]

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